Arts funding axe brings shame to Stormont
Leading figures in the arts and business community have rightly expressed their shock and disappointment at the Government's decision to withdraw the Laganside Events Grant Scheme.
This will threaten the future of several important festivals and individual events which have provided such vitality and artistic excellence in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.
These include the prestigious Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, the Open House Festival and the Belfast Children's Festival.
The stark announcement of the funding withdrawal has sent a chill through the hearts of all those who cherish the importance of a rich cultural life in our capital city. The Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, who announced the withdrawal of the £300,000 funding, was unconvincing when he pointed out that the Laganside scheme had been only one of a list of initiatives to promote tourism and artistic activities in the area.
This assumes that artistic creativity can be turned on and off like a tap. The reality is that cultural excellence takes a long time to develop, and once the funding is withdrawn, it is almost impossible to maintain the momentum required to reach the next level.
The minister is also sending mixed messages by underlining support for the new MAC centre, at the same as he is seriously threatening artistic achievements in the same geographical area.
Such a policy is not only misguided but also short-sighted, because it provides fewer artistic attractions for tourists whose spending helps to benefit the entire area. Admittedly cuts need to be made generally at a time of financial stringency, but once again the arts sector is seen as the soft target. Recently the Ormeau Baths Gallery closed, and the arts community has received yet more bad news at a time when it should be looking forward with confidence to making Belfast an even bigger tourist attraction.
Within a week, the good news about the MAC centre has been overtaken by the depressing announcement of savage cuts.
That is not the way to run an arts sector, or to create confidence in those at Stormont who hold the purse strings.